Avoiding Mistakes In The Recorded Interview Process
"What every investigator needs to know to avoid
the most common mistakes of the recorded interview."
Teresa Botteron -Owner
Northwest Transcribing Lynnwood, Washington
My name is Teresa Botteron and I am the owner of Northwest
It is my sincere hope that from my experience as a transcriptionist,
as well as the operator of a transcription company, that I will be
able to assist you, the private investigator, in avoiding the most
common mistakes of the recorded interview. In addition, I will be
discussing what I believe every investigator needs to know for great
results with your transcription.
How can you ensure the best transcription for your business?
Finding a good transcriptionist is one answer; however, the overall
quality of the transcript is completely dependent on the quality of
the recording that is generated.
When recording an interview with the intention of having it
transcribed later, you can help make the transcription process as
efficient and accurate as possible by planning ahead to avoid
problems before they occur. While it's not always possible to
follow all of these tips, taking them into account can help ensure
better transcription by improving sound quality and minimizing
Here are six simple suggestions for improving the quality of your
recordings and, consequently, the quality of your verbatim
NUMBER #1 – Invest in good, reliable equipment and maintain it.
When you are recording important information, especially verbatim
witness statements, it pays to invest in a good microphone set and
good professional quality recording systems.
Rather than relying on the inferior and limited microphone that is
on the machine itself, we recommend using either lapel mics or
an "omni-directional" microphone positioned centrally to
allow voices from all over the room to be captured.
We have found that the sound quality in high quality digital recordings is far
superior to cassettes, similar to the quality comparison in movies
from VHS to DVD or in music on cassettes to CD. Digital machines
are more expensive, but well worth it.
While there are certainly tons of inferior quality tape recorders both digital and analog in the market place, these basement bagain specials do not have a high enough sampling rate and are not suitable for professional investigative interview recording. In fact, the internet is now flooded wiith them and there are even knock-offs of some of the professional quality recorders. The best recorders for professional investigative interviewing are the new generation Disasonic recorders with higher sampling rates.
NUMBER #2 - Prior to the interview; verify your equipment is in good
Do a test recording prior to arriving at the interview location and
ensure you have fresh batteries and tapes.
If you are using tapes, either standard sized or micro, never reuse
If possible, it is highly recommended you bring along a back-up
machine and a AC adapter, in case your batteries fail.
NUMBER #3 - The recorder or microphone should be as close to the
interview subject as possible and set to an appropriate volume.
Sound volume is ruled by what's known as an inverse square ratio.
As distance is increased, sound volume is decreased by the square of
An easy way to think of it is for each foot of distance a microphone
is away from a sound source, the recorded volume level is decreased
by half and the amount of background noise doubles.
Because sound volume degrades so quickly over relatively short
distances, especially with inexpensive equipment, I cannot stress
enough that for good recordings and accurate transcripts,
microphones and recorders must be placed as close to a subject as
possible and that the recording be done in a quiet setting.
Make sure your recording device has its volume set to capture all of
the speakers in the room. If the recording level isn't set high
enough, not everything will be recorded. For transcription
purposes, it is better to record too loud (within reason) than too
soft. The recording may sound louder than what will be heard over a
transcription machine, but a few extra decibels will make it easier
All too often, we receive recordings where the interviewer is
perfectly clear, but the person being interviewed cannot be heard
because the microphone is too far away.
Also, if you use lapel mics, make sure they won't be rubbed by a
piece of clothing and that they pick up the speaker's voice when his
or her head is turned.
NUMBER #4 - Set "ground rules" for your interview.
Take a moment prior to initiating the interview to discuss that the
interview is being recorded and because of that there are
some "ground rules" everyone present (including yourself)
a) They must speak loudly and clearly and, if possible, at normal
b) They must use "yes" or "no," NOT "uh-huh"
or "uh-uh," as it is
impossible to distinguish between the two.
c) There must only be one person speaking at a time – no
interruptions or talking over one another!
NUMBER #5 - Keep the background noise down
As important as maintaining control of the interview and keeping the
conversation on track, it is absolutely vital that you also maintain
control over the sound element in the room.
Background noise is often more apparent on recordings than it seems
during the interview and voices can often disappear when witnesses
are softly spoken. Some common sources of background noise include:
o Paper shuffling
o Coughs and sneezes
Just so you know, coughing obliterates speech in a recording. If
someone sneezes or coughs in the room during your interview, it is
crucial that you have the previous comment repeated, because
otherwise, it will be gone. Having a package of cough drops on hand
might tactfully help silence a persistent cough.
o Machinery running in the background. An example: laptops fans,
heating or air conditioners, TV or stereos, even vacuums and
o Traffic, airplanes, and other noise coming through open (or even
o Pets or other animals in the area.
o Cell phones and pagers. Put them on vibrate, but do not leave them
on the table
o Miscellaneous nervous habits. (Example: Tapping of fingernails on
tabletop, clicking of a pen, etc)
o Food and beverages (Example: Crunchy apples or pretzels, ice
clinking in glass, slurping of hot coffee, and chewing of gum
o Sniffles or crying.
In addition to carrying cough drops, tissues will assist with a
stuffy nose and also will come in handy if there are any tears that
come along the way.
The bottom line is that in a live situation, human ears filter out a
lot of extraneous noise where microphones tend to pick up sounds
that are closest and loudest to them. While you may hear a speaker
clearly from the other side of the room, a recorder will be hearing
someone yawning, paper shuffling, a cell phone vibrating, the air
conditioning kicking on and off, and so on.
If you are in a situation where you know there is excessive
background noise - but you can't do anything about it, please try
take good notes and have important responses repeated.
NUMBER #6 - Manage the recording
Announce and spell the names of all people present at the beginning
of the recording. If possible, have the people themselves state
their name with its spelling, as this will assist the
transcriptionist in identifying speakers. It should be noted that
if there are several male or female speakers, unless their voices
are somehow dramatically different, they will all sound the same on
the recording. If you want the names matched with a voice, they
must identify themselves every time they speak. If this is not
possible, the interviewer can assist the transcriber by using the
first names of person during questioning, i.e. I understand, Brian
or Kristen, can you please tell me what happened next?
Do not be afraid to ask the interviewee to speak up. Most people do
not know when they are speaking too softly, but they are happy to
speak louder to accommodate the interviewer. Also be sure to also
speak up yourself. In a one-on-one situation, the interview subject
will match the volume level of the person asking the questions.
Always ensure that people speak clearly and enunciate their words.
A mumbled tape is incredibly difficult to transcribe. If you
understand what is being said -- then you can be sure whoever
transcribes will not be able too either.
When references to people, places, Web sites, organizations, etc.
come up in an interview, as well as acronyms and abbreviations, it
is important to stop and have them clearly repeated and even spelled
Pay attention to the interviewee's physical and emotional well-
being, as this too will affect the quality of the transcription.
For example: If they are nervous, excited or angry, they will speak
faster; if they are tired, hungry or bored, they will speak slower
and more quietly. If you have the time, it might be worthwhile to
take a ten minute break and then proceed with the interview.
Last but not least, test the recording. Stop and listen after a few
minutes of conversation to make sure everything is working properly
and the most important voices can be heard clearly.
In conclusion, I will say not all of these tips apply to all
situations. A single-person transcription rarely has any of these
possible problems. Sometimes you cannot avoid background noise or
conversations where people interrupt and talk-over one another. A
good transcriptionist can help some of these situations; however,
they cannot perform miracles.
Teresa Botteron -Owner
Northwest Transcribing Lynnwood, Washington